An important step in many mental performance exercises is something very simple. So simple that we do it all the time without even noticing, and at times it can fly under the radar. Because of this it is in my opinion that:
the BREATH is FAR TOO UNDERRATED.
Breathing is hands down one of the most important things anyone can do. I mean it is one of the things that is need to stay alive after all. So, tell me it’s not important, because you will lose in that argument. Not only do you need it to live, but it is a focus point during workouts, yoga, mindfulness, and meditation. It is also a big factor in mental performance techniques and one that we here at Sterling Sport Mindset go over in our Pregame to Podium team talks. For example, when you have a routine, you do your three steps and then what do you pair it with??
When you are working on only focusing on the things you can control, what’s one thing you can control?
What is one thing that is used to help reduce anxiety, stress, and calm your nerves?
You probably know the answer by now but I’ll say for the ones in the back…
Now don’t start feeling bad for not giving the breath all the credit it deserves, because it wasn’t until I joined SSM that the importance of breathing was even brought to my attention. It wasn’t until I attended my first team talk as an intern that I had even heard about belly breathing. Then, when I start practicing mindfulness I learned how to properly breath from my diaphragm instead of my chest. Ever since, breathing has helped me tremendously and is my biggest go-to in high pressure situations.
Since breathing is something we do without even having to think about, it’s easy to see why it’s something we can forget to do at times when it is needed most. Adding breathing exercises into your daily routine can be a beneficial habit to have. Another trick is to have a key word that you and a friend could say to each other as a reminder to take a step back from a situation and breathe. A friend and I like to use the word snowball. Sounds kind of funny, but to me it makes sense. To avoid the snowball effect of things escalating to quickly, the word snowball helps remind us to pause for a second and just take a deep breath.
So, use key word snowball or any word of your choosing to remind yourself and others when it’s time to take a nice deep breath. Work those breathing exercises into your daily life, and maybe even think twice before hitting the dismiss button when your watch tells you it’s time to breathe (Apple Watch owners will understand this reference).
When you train to be calm, you train to be confident.
As an athlete you train 3 things:
A great Yogi ism by Berra is that “90% of the game is half mental.”
We know how important the mental aspect of sport is and we know that the more mentally tough athlete will win when it matters most. The most elite athletes have figured out this new wave of competing and know that once they’ve reached their physical potential the game is strictly mental. Generating your power and unlocking the most potential you have comes from opening your mind, slowing down, and seeing clearly.
“If you take twenty athletes of equal ability and give ten of them mental training, they will OUTPERFORM the ten who received no mental training every time.” – Gary Mack
So, what does it mean to slow down? Slowing down means becoming more mindful and seeing things for what they truly are. Being completely in the present moment.
What is mindfulness? Mindfulness can be understood through 2 main components:
Awareness: Thoughts -> Emotions -> Physical Body -> Outcome.
Becoming self aware increases peak performance by becoming aware of the thoughts we are thinking first, which results in our actions and results in the outcome. This is crucial as an athlete with balancing emotions, pressure, physical sensations, etc. When an athlete can become more self aware they can notice the thoughts that are coming in and interpret the signals accurately. That athlete can slow down and make critical decisions in a fast paced environment.
Wisdom – The quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment.
By becoming more intune with the now and the present play at hand, an athlete can make better judgements. The ability to instantly forget about the past play and not think about the next play coming up is an absolutely present and engaged athlete who sees their role clearly. They can focus on themselves and not react based on their emotions.
Actions follow our thoughts. So, don’t look where you don’t want to go.
It is important for athletes to be focused on seeing the present play at hand and their essential role rather than being focused on what they DO NOT want to happen. This is the key to playing present.
Harmful Thinking: “Just don’t lose.”
Focused on avoiding failure
Prepping the body to tense up
Beneficial Thinking: “Tall through the middle phase and finish with form.”
Calm and Confident
Focused on approaching success with action plan
Telling the body exactly what to do
We have to train mindfulness just like we train the body through repetitions of particular ways of thinking. The “slow athlete” is the athlete that trains their mind to overcome their brain.
What is the difference between competing with our mind instead of our brain?
Example: You’re in competition and your opponent has been on a winning streak the past few weeks. You get on the track and suddenly you feel “pressure.” Your muscles tense up, your heart is racing, you doubt yourself and don’t feel prepared anymore.
This is your brain taking over! You are perceiving this situation through fear and instincts. Fight or flight mode kicks in and suddenly you don’t have control over yourself. You start to feel anxious in competition + paired with a negative thought + the physical sensations take over = leaving you to underperform.
The athlete that slows down is the athlete that is in control of their thoughts and emotions. They see their sport from a different perspective and don’t fear the signals their bodies are sending them but accept them to recognize they are ready. They operate on a level of higher thinking with an open mind and don’t operate at the level of fear. They are able to slow the race or game down in their mind to make critical decisions and stay physically relaxed. They execute their performance. They don’t overthink or try too hard or change up their routines. They trust in their training and breathe into the present moment.
GRITTINESS . DETERMINATION . CONFIDENCE.
These can all be developed by first being vulnerable and open with your self awareness. To become the EXCEPTIONAL athlete you have to compete by being connected with your mind – through awareness.
The moment you become a mindful athlete is the moment you’ll realize that your negative thoughts and emotions are just fixed patterns and habits preventing you from reaching your highest potential. You’ve created a false perception of YOU. You fooled yourself! But slowing down helps you see clearly and rebuild your true athletic identity, of who you are, and will elevate your performance!
If you’re interested in learning how to slow down in order to speed up andtake your performance to the next level, please reach out for a free mini session or send me an email!
To the High School Athlete Whose Season Has Been Cancelled Indefinitely
Dear Athlete, It’s ok to not be ok. It’s ok to be angry. It’s ok to cry. It’s ok to be unmotivated.
You just found out your Fall season has been canceled indefinitely. You knew it was rough seeing the Spring athletes miss out on their opportunity to finish out the season. You had empathy. But, you had no inkling that that would be you right now. So, you didn’t prepare.
While it’s ok to feel all of the emotions that come up for you, know that you have the opportunity to choose how you will respond. At some point when your season comes back and you get out on the course, field, or court, you need to be prepared. You need to find inner strength to continue growing as an athlete and person, not knowing when you’ll put your uniform back on again.
If you’re the high school athlete who is looking to take your game to the next level and play in college, choose a response to what you’re feeling that will get you there. If you’re the high school senior not looking to continue playing competitively, choose a response to your emotions that will allow you time to reflect on what your sport has taught you throughout your playing career.
We all go through transitions in life. Some are anticipated, like graduation and Senior Night. Others are unexpected, like an injury or this pandemic. Regardless of whether our transition was inevitable or not, as a high school athlete, this may be the first time you’ve had to experience a loss this significant. Therefore, give yourself time to comprehend it. Give yourself time to grieve.
Remember, it’s ok to not be ok. You have the opportunity to choose how you will respond. This a set-back to an even greater come-back. I am with you. I support you. I am here for you. I empathize with you.
P.S. — If you’re working through this unexpected transition, and you’re unsure where to turn. I’m here to help you. Let’s chat in a Free Mini Session!
I’ll be there for you as you work through this transition and prepare for your next step in life. Let me help you choose what will get you to accomplish your next goal.
I recently listened to a Podcast in which Alex Morgan talked about understanding her role on the US Women’s National Soccer Team and understanding how she could make an impact on the team given that role.
Alex Morgan is one of the best Women’s Soccer players in the world and she discussed how she was a bench player when she first made it on the National Team. The role she was given was to come off the bench in a game (usually second half) and impact the game as needed. She didn’t play every game, and sometimes the coaches would tell her to warm up and not even put her in. Was she satisfied with being a bench player? No. But that was the role that was given to her at the time, and most importantly the role her team needed her in at the time. So when she got the opportunity to go on the field she tried to have the impact the team needed regardless of the amount of time she was on the field.
She knew her role, and understood how to execute that role effectively for her team, but stayed hungry for more as she knew she had more to offer the team. For the last 6-7 years, Alex Morgan has been a starting forward for the US Women’s National Soccer team.
So how did she go from a bench player role to the starting forward role?
The biggest thing was her mindset!
She accepted what was out of her control; the role the coach gave her. And worked at what she could control. Like how she played when she did step on the field, how she supported her teammates from the bench, how she focused on improving every day in practice. She did not let the one little thing she couldn’t control consume her.
She put the team first, and understood that what the team most needed of her was the role she was given. But she also stayed hungry for more and made sure to improve, show up on the field, and make the impact that was expected of her when she did get on the field.
Ultimately, she was having such a big impact on a game in the times she came off the bench, that she earned that starting spot. She executed the role exactly as the team needed her to, the coach saw that and found a way to make that role develop into a starting position.
Oftentimes we struggle with the role we’ve been given. Maybe it’s the role you have at work, the role you have in a group project, or on your team. If you want to change the role you are in, the best thing you can do is to focus on what you can control. Show up for yourself and continue to improve 1% every day.
What is your role and how are you showing up every day to execute the role your team has given you?
I don’t have a name for it. It is not an alter ego of myself that is trying to make me better or an attempt to hold me to a higher standard. It is a part of who I am that is trying to tear down everything that I have worked to build. The voice is not someone from my past talking to me, the voice is mine and mine alone. It is a constant reminder of the things that didn’t work out and all the times I screwed up.
Sometimes my negative inner voice causes so much anxiety and worry about the future that my fictional failures seem more like flashbacks.
Where did this inner critic come from? Was I born with this voice? Can I get rid of it?
Right now would be a good time to point out that this inner voice is not a sign of any sort of deeper mental illness. This voice is the devil on my shoulder, the unconfident me, the great discourager.
The following is a deeper, personal look into my own inner critic and how I kick it in the teeth every single day.
“You aren’t good enough. You are going to blow this.”
This thought doesn’t so much creep into my head as it busts through with a grand entrance. It usually comes to me whenever I am about to do something that I know I have struggled with in the past. It could be about anything from public speaking, working with a client, or even throwing batting practice to my guys. It is a daily thing that I struggle with. This thought is usually accompanied with a multitude of memories of occasions where I failed at whatever I am about to do. “Remember that time you couldn’t throw a strike in batting practice? Or when you blanked and didn’t know what to say to that client?!” Yes, yes I do remember those times. Thank you so much for reminding me.
“People are going to find out that you are a fraud.”
This thought primarily happens when I am working on my practice. Imposter syndrome is another title for this thought. That could be making a video, having a session, or writing this blog. Even as I am typing these words I am thinking about how people are going to think it is stupid. Someone somewhere is going to read this entire blog and not get anything out of it. A common fact that often accompanies this negative thought is my age. I’m 26 years old. In the psychology field, a common misconception is that the older people have it all figured out. “Who would come talk to you?? You are brand new at this stuff! You don’t know what you are doing!!”
“You weren’t even good at your sport!”
This one hurts. Was I a good pitcher? Maybe. I was okay. In my five years in college, I only had four appearances. So it would be fair to assume that I was never one of the team’s top picks to take the mound. It would also be fair to want to work with a mental performance consultant who has a lot of personal experience in a sport so that the athlete can really relate to someone who is experiencing the ups and downs that come with consistent playing time. I don’t have any of that.
“You’re stupid. You suck at this. Give up.”
This is a pretty common phrase my inner critic says after I might have done something wrong. I tend to just sit and stew on whatever I just did. “You should’ve done this!” “You should’ve done that!” Is there always room to improve? Of course. Could I have done something differently to achieve a better result? Probably. Do I have a time machine to fix it? No. Will that fact stop my inner critic from bombarding me with these thoughts of self-doubt and regret? NOPE.
Now I am going to go over the techniques I use to combat this inner critic and how I choose to believe the things I want to believe.
The first thing I want to say about combating the inner critic is that this negative inner voice is something that will always be a part of who you are. The following techniques will not make the negativity disappear, but they are meant to assist you in changing your view on your inner critic.
The main thing I do whenever any sort of negative inner voice enters my head is that I address that it is happening. So many times I hear people offer up the solution to “just ignore it” when faced with their own inner critic. I get it. It would be so much easier if you could simply not hear the negativity and self-doubt that goes on in your head. But the reality is that you cannot simply stop your inner critic from being critical. Some people are jerks and there’s not anything you can do about it.
Instead of just trying to block out the negativity, embrace it.
Take a moment to hear that inner critic and all the lies it tells. That voice isn’t fighting for time in your day to hold your attention, it is fighting for you to believe. Acknowledge that what you are hearing in your head is not true and fight back with positivity.
I would even suggest saying the positive response out loud if you can. Sometimes I feel like I have better control of my words as opposed to my thoughts. I can think a lot of negative thoughts in a row in the blink of an eye. But by saying the positivity with my own breath, I am giving the power back to myself. Go ahead, say these responses aloud wherever you are and see how you feel. You might feel corny, but trust me on this one.
Phrase 1: “You aren’t good enough. You are going to blow this.”
Response: *inhales* *exhales* You are wrong. I can do this. I am strong and capable. I have worked so hard to get to this moment and have earned the opportunity to have success. I am more than good enough. I am not here by accident. I was meant to be in this situation. I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.
While I say these things audibly, I am playing my own highlight reel of success in my mind. I think back to all the adversity I overcame to get to this very moment in time. By simply being alive, I have already accomplished so much. The feeling of anxiety and pressure building is a sign that I am on the right path. I think back to all the times that I wanted an opportunity to perform, but didn’t have a chance. This is my moment; I am going to choose to enjoy it.
Phrase 2: “People are going to find out that you are a fraud.”
Response: *inhales* *exhales* I am great at what I do. I have worked extremely hard to be in this position. How can I be a fraud when I know I am not lying? I studied, passed, and excelled at every academic challenge I have been faced with. I have already had a positive impact on those around me and the athletes I have worked with so far. I have a bright future in this business. My best days are ahead of me. I am already so blessed.
Nothing changes here in this response. As soon as I say these words with high intentionality, I gain a sense of peace that everything is going to be alright. Call it what you want, but I personally believe that it is me falling into the arms of the Good Lord and believing that He is always in full control.
Phrase 3: “You weren’t even good at your sport!”
Response: *inhales* *exhales* I gave everything I had to that sport. I can rest easy every single night of my life because I know that I didn’t hold anything back. The lessons I learned are bigger than sports. My purpose is in the present, not the past. I have value. I am wanted. I am at peace with my career because I have no regrets.
This example of negative inner voice/response is very specific to me. But whenever I am faced with these thoughts, I think back to how I get to lay my head on my pillow every single night without any sort of remorse, bitterness, or anguish. I feel like that is a unique feeling and I am glad to have it.
Phrase 4: “You’re stupid. You suck at this. Give up.”
Response: I will never give up. I am smart and intelligent. I will never give up. I can do this. I have made up my mind that I will never quit. I will keep going. I will get stronger. I will never stop learning. I am strong. I’m the man. I have a ferocious drive to be my best. I have an unstoppable work ethic. I will never give up.
You have probably noticed this already, but some of my responses have repeated sayings. This is intentional because the more you say something over and over again, the more you will believe it. Don’t believe me? You have probably heard that negative inner voice repeat the same things over the years, at some point you started to believe it.
This whole blog is real and raw. Besides a few colorful four-letter words, I have held nothing back from my reflection on my own inner critic. I encourage you to do the same thing. I want you to know that you are reading these words not by accident. You are more than able to fight your own inner critic. You have the strength to take it by the throat and refuse to believe the deceptions it tries to feed you. This is a skill that will require lots of practice and some days will be better than others. This change will take time, but you can choose to start that change today.